Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, who has been shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, is out with a new short story collection, The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises, which will be published by Hachette India on September 29. His second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, the UK version of Chats with the Dead, which was published in the subcontinent in 2020, is on the shortlist of the 2022 Booker Prize.
The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises is a collection of fantastic short stories that serves up fantasies for both doomsday and every day, marking the return of one of South Asia’s most compelling storytellers. An engaging commentary on privilege, class, and societal ills, Karunatilaka’s anthology is replete with unexpected twists.
An engaging commentary
Unpleasant truths await a Sri Lankan president in the back of a London cab. An advertising agency has to come to terms with a blown-up collection of pictures of its employees’ penises. A man presumed missing, quietly journals by the sea. A being dispassionately recalls the numerous births it had taken and absurd fates it had to endure. An Englishman, a Dutchman and a Portuguese man walk into a Ceylon bar with grand narcotic designs. Karunatilaka’s stories skillfully blend dry wit, morbid charm and earnest observations. They also offer a pointed conversation about religious fanaticism, social prejudices, and the devolving state of democratic order in the Indian subcontinent.
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“I take a long time to finish things. The Birth Lottery… took two decades. The oldest story was written during the millennium bug and the newest during a global pandemic. These are stories that I wrote while procrastinating on things I never finished, or to win prizes that I never entered, or to try out ideas that wouldn’t leave me alone. The result is a strange mix of genres, characters and styles. I tried my hand at writing thrillers, love stories, sci-fi epics, tales small enough to fit on teabags and wide enough to span 2000 years. Delighted to finally have these out in the world. I hope each story finds itself a nice reader,” Karunatilaka, 47, said in a press statement released by the publishing house.
Karunatilaka’s first book, Chinaman, won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Gratiaen Prize, and was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most original novels to come out of Sri Lanka.
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The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is an epic satire set in Sri Lanka in the midst of the 1990 civil war. It tells the story of Maali Almeida, a war photographer, who finds himself dead and waiting in a celestial visa office. He has no idea who killed him. While time runs out in the afterlife for Maali, he has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loved most in the living world and lead them to a hidden photos that will rock Sri Lanka and perhaps solve his murder.
Commenting on the novel, the Booker Prize judges noted: “Life after death in Sri Lanka: an afterlife noir, with nods to Dante and Buddha and yet unpretentious. Fizzes with energy, imagery, and ideas against a broad, surreal vision of the Sri Lankan civil wars. Slyly, angrily comic.” The winner of the 2022 Booker Prize will be announced on October 17 in an awards ceremony held in London. The six shortlisted authors each receive £2,500. The winner will receive £50,000.